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Editorial: Time to get Michigan moving

Friday, January 11, 2013   (0 Comments)
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From The Detroit News:


Gov. Rick Snyder's road funding suggestions didn't spur lawmakers into action last year, so he'll lay out a specific plan for fixing Michigan's crumbling roads and bridges in his State of the State message. That will put Michigan's infrastructure deficit back in the public eye for a news cycle or two, but he'll enjoy no more success this year unless he's ready to be a really tough nerd.


The annual road repair shortfall has ballooned to $1.6 billion as a result of continuing inaction. Getting lawmakers to approve any plan to raise that kind of money will require horse trading, arm twisting and whatever other form of politicking Snyder usually eschews.


His fellow Republicans hate the idea of increasing taxes or fees, which surely will be necessary to meet the need. Democratic lawmakers are making uncooperative noises because of their anger over right-to-work legislation Snyder signed last month, not to mention the income tax on pensions and $1.8 billion business tax cut he got lawmakers to approve in the first year of his administration.


Lansing scuttlebutt says the governor intends to firm up what he insisted were only suggestions in his 2011 infrastructure and transportation message:


Replace the 19-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and 15-cent-per-gallon diesel tax with a percentage tax.


Boost annual registration fees an average of $120 per vehicle.


Those are the state's two revenue streams specifically dedicated to road improvements and public transportation. A sales-tax like levy, rather than the current flat rate per gallon, would allow state fuel tax revenue to rise along with inflationary increases in pump prices. Set high enough, it also could produce an immediate revenue boost.


Right now, things are moving in reverse. State fuel tax revenues are declining year-to-year as motorists economize with higher miles-per-gallon vehicles and less driving. Revenue from registration fees is sliding.


That threatens the repair program because Michigan's annual federal road supplement — $1 billion —hinges on how much the state raises. The state needs every penny of that, but gets less if it can't raise enough from its own sources.


Worse yet, a bipartisan legislature-funded study has shown Michigan must spend an added amount each year on road and bridge repairs — now inflated to $1.6 billion — to keep up with deterioration.


Failing that, the report said, motorists can expect to see more and more crumbling of the roads they regularly use. And very few drivers would say Michigan's roads are in wonderful condition.


The need has passed the critical point, but lawmakers have treated it like a ticking bomb.


It can't be avoided again this year. And House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, this week hinted at an effort to work with Snyder on the problem. But he qualified that by vaguely saying lawmakers first want to make sure all current road money is being used as efficiently as possible.


That's perfectly logical, of course, but it also has become an excuse for doing too little. Lawmakers have used the same mantra for nearly a decade. During that time, the state transportation department has undertaken an array of reforms and the Legislature approved laws leading to additional savings. Yet the state's pot of money for roadwork is short by more than a billion dollars.


If lawmakers know of additional ways to free up money, they should put them on the table and pass them without delay. Then they should add muscle to the road repair program through the governor's proposals or their own. And Snyder should stand ready to help them get it done.

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